Live Reviews

It's 27th May 1967 the first line-up of Fairport Convention play their first ever gig at St. Michael's Church Hall in Golders Green. Some 25 members later and Simon Nichol (who is the one remaining original member though he went for a mid 1970's wander), Dave Pegg, Ric Sanders, Chris Leslie and Gerry Conway who have been the band since 1998 celebrate Fairport's 50th year. The celebratory year starts with the traditional Winter tour criss-crossing the country during February and March.

Fiddle player Ric Sanders introduces tonight's support Sally Barker, who you may know from a recent series of The Voice, but for many years she has been a member of The Poozies and sings with the re-formed Sandy Denny's Fotheringay, which provides a neat link to an early Fairport Convention line-up. Sally plays folky-country-blues songs from her most recent solo album 'Ghost Girl' along with tracks from earlier in her varied career.

There's a beautiful country song possibly called “Two Hearts”, which she's considering giving to Dolly Parton to record. 'Talk About The Money' gets a good rapport with the audience tonight. The tradition is that before starting their set, Fairport accompany the final track of the support's set which tonight is an excellent track called 'I'm Not Whole' which was written by Sally's son.

Fairport Convention start their first set with a new track 'Our Bus Rolls On' from the new album 50:50 @50, which acts as a bio for the current band members echoing the themes of 1971's 'Angel Delight'. Whilst Chris Leslie has been the band's main songwriter since 1996, the band always recognise their significant earlier authors. 'Genesis Hall' is introduced as written by Richard Thompson when he was “ .. just out of nappies ....which he'll be going back into shortly ... well it happens to all of us” a Swarbrick/ Thompson track “Now Be Thankful” (one of my personal favourites) is sensitively and beautifully played with Chris taking lead vocals.

There's a preamble to explain the origin of the next track which is a new arrangement of the instrumental 'Danny Jack's Reward', which goes something like this ; Ric “ I phoned Peggy and told him I wanted to make a new arrangement of Danny Jack's Reward for us to play at Cropredy with some additional musicians”, Peggy replied “How many additional musicians do you want ? “, “I replied 43!”. What follows is the arrangement which Joe Broughton's Conservatoire Folk Ensemble (all 43 of them) played at Fairport's 2014 Cropredy festival and is now known as the expensive version, although tonight we get the cheap version played by the five piece it's still a great new arrangement.

The second half of the show begins with a couple tracks from the back catalogue, the traditional track 'Sir Patrick Spens' and Sandy Denny's composition 'Fotheringay'. Sally Barker returns to take Sandy's vocals on 'Rising For The Moon'. There's 'Farewell, Farewell ' from the multi-award winning 'Liege and Lief' album really brings out the beautiful twin fiddle playing of Ric Sanders and Chris Leslie.

The opening track from the new album is 'Eleanor's Dream' which is a rockier number in the style of 'Myths and Heroes'. Final track with the now familiar banjo intro from Chris is of course 'Matty Groves' ,which tells the story of doomed love between a lady of the manor bored with her husband and the handsome man she sees in the church (the years and the venues may change but the theme remains). Sally Barker returns (place a bet on her appearing at Cropredy this year) to sing a verse of 'Meet on the Ledge' as we bid farewell to old friends and promise to see them them again because as the song finishes “if you really mean it, it all comes round again”.

The Winter Tour continues until 5th March, there's a special 50 years celebration of the first show at the Union Chapel in London, and Fairport's Cropredy Convention is 10th -12th August in a field in Oxfordshire.

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Alisdair Whyte

 

Martin Simpson is listed in Gibson Guitars' Top 30 Acoustic Guitarists of all time, and Acoustic Guitar readers voted him number 12 guitarist in the world”- thus read the blurb advertising this concert. Undoubtedly Martin is that, and in addition he is a songwriter, a fine singer, storyteller and a kind of music historian, who could keep an audience enraptured even if he did not play anything at all.

I have been a fan of Martin's since first coming across him at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2007, at the time of his 'Prodigal Son' album. I have followed him since, seen him many times over, mainly at Cambridge, and bought every subsequent release, yet he never seemed to come to Ireland - unless I missed it of course, but I do watch gig listings rigorously.

The Hot Spot Music Club in Greystones, a venue above a pub/restaurant, was sold out for this rare performance. I arrived really early as I very much wanted a front row seat. This was partly a muso audience. Men around me were discussing technical guitar stuff that I have no understanding of. I take it from friends knowledgeable in these matters that Martin is an absolute master on the guitar.

Support came from a sympathetic singing fisherman from Wexford. Then some local musicians played, and the audience readied themselves - drinks, rest room, everything out of the way so as to not miss a minute of the gig. Martin himself was sitting on the edge of the stage, looking down and seemingly getting himself mentally ready, in the way I have seen musicians do this at house gigs, where there is also no dressing room to provide privacy. Martin was flexing his fingers and I noticed he was wearing one leather glove, on his right hand. He looked up and shot me a smile. Then an audience member walked over and they talked animatedly for a bit. After that Martin stood up and the gig started, without fanfare.

What followed was a dream of a show. It was a joy and a privilege to be there. Martin played the entire set on one guitar, tuning in between songs in his unique way. His tuning is like short instrumental intermezzos. He played three songs before addressing the audience, but from then on he talked at length about the songs. His introductions are an integral part of the gig and to me he is like a favourite teacher. I could listen for hours. And so it seemed to be for everybody present. If only audiences could be so quiet and appreciative at all gigs!

'Dark Swift and Bright Swallow' from the Simpson Cutting Kerr album was an early highlight. 'The Plains of Waterloo' from the same album was played as well. Martin had no setlist and did not pause at all, only to tune. He just kept playing. There were no requests, we did not have to sing. Everybody simply listened intently.

Martin talked about his father and his family and played what he described as his hit, 'Never Any Good'. He also talked about his time in the U.S. and played, 'Delta Dreams' and one of my favourites, 'An Englishman Abroad'. He spoke about Leonard Cohen and the wonder of his late career renaissance, followed by a beautiful cover of 'Stranger Song'.

As the gig went on I was aware that we would be missing the last train back to Dublin, but leaving was out of the question. In the end my partner and I were rescued by a kind American who let us share his ride. This man was over in Dublin on business and presumed that Martin plays here regularly. Not so.. I asked Martin afterwards why he does not come over to Ireland more often, to which he replied, "I should really. People don't seem to be opposed to me being here". An understatement if ever there was one.

Martin has a new album coming out this year and it seems he will once again be back at my favourite festival.

Helen

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A truly life affirming gig. Three hours, fifteen musicians on stage most of the time and a real musical camaraderie amongst the troupe.

Transatlantic Sessions revisits shared roots between Celtic and Americana musicians, so it say’s on the tin and indeed that is the blend of the evening. The project’s founding musical directors are Dobro maestro, Jerry Douglas, and Shetland fiddler and all-round legend, Aly Bain who lead a band that includes John Doyle, Danny Thompson, Michael McGoldrick, Russ Barenberg, John McCusker, Donald Shaw and James Mackintosh.

Then comes the guests, ex-Civil Wars man, John Paul White, Singer/Songwriter, Tift Merritt, multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell, legendary singer, Jim Lauderdale, the lovely Irish folk singer Karan Casey and from Scotland the ever wonderful Eddi Reader.

The two part show either sees the main band in full instrumentation jig flow or one of the guest artists up front with the band playing along. Most people on the stage seem to have new albums out (this is a running joke all night, even if someone has not got a new album out, they say they have!) so, there is plenty of new music to hear.

Throughout the night most people get four songs each and it’s a real contrast is styles between them all, there is never a moment where the enjoyment dips.

Tributes to Guy Clark and some other lost souls of 2016 are handled beautifully. The key to the night is the humour, stories and banter between everyone on stage.

This was the first visit to Cambridge for this annual tour so, let’s hope they are back next year. A truly wonderful show.

credit: Murdo Macleod

 

 

With well over forty years of gigs under my belt and finding my musical feet in the Seventies, it is hard to understand why I have never seen Black Sabbath live before. When tickets went on sale last year for ‘The End’ tour, there was one last chance remaining so, I grabbed it with both hands and brought a ticket for the last show on the tour in their hometown of Birmingham.

The Genting Arena is on the site of the NEC and is a fair way out of the City but it is a great arena size venue which holds 15,000 people yet, without you ever feeling you are standing in an Aircraft hanger.

Rival Sons from Long Beach, California kick off the show with a rocking set that really sets the mood. Regular touring partners for Black Sabbath, they are an excellent live outfit.

There are no great fanfares tonight, the place is full to bursting and, you just get the feeling that the main event is going to be what we would expect. A no frills workmanlike show, solid, intense, powerful, nothing less than Black Sabbath always deliver.

8.40pm and the lights go out, the bells toll and the curtain drops as the band kick off the set with ‘Black Sabbath’ from their 1970 debut. It’s a menacing start. ‘Fairies Wear Boots’ from Paranoid is next and it’s like a time machine! What is instantly obvious is how tight this band still is and what an amazing guitarist Tony Iommi remains.

The set has been constant during this final tour but, friends who had been to the London shows said that that tonight’s show saw the band on their best form of the tour and the sound mix, certainly the finest.

The set list speaks for itself, even a nod to that question “Name the best four best metal albums of all time”; Answer, “The first four Black Sabbath Albums” .

‘War Pigs’ mid set and N.I.B., are absolute gems as is ‘Hand of Doom’ from ‘Paranoid’. It’s a real treat to hear this song. We really need a four hour show to get all the songs in, ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ is an instrumental and a drum solo takes care of the toilet break for the older members of the band.

The final section includes mighty versions of ‘Iron Man’ and an epic ‘Children of the Grave’ plus a shower of black and purple balloons, (which is just fitting for this show, nothing flashy, the music does the talking).

The band return for a final and sonic version of ‘Paranoid’ with, Geezer Butler sporting an Aston Villa Bass guitar in front of 15,000 pairs of arms held aloft (for the band, not Aston Villa, I must add).

An outstanding, never to be forgotten show. It was being recorded but, perhaps for those there, just let it sink into the memory where over the years, it will obtain an ever greater status of magic in your mind.

Pete

Set List

Black Sabbath,
Fairies Wear Boots,
Under the Sun/Every Day Comes and Goes,
After Forever,
Into the Void,
Snowblind,
War Pigs,
Behind the Wall of Sleep,
N.I.B.,
Hand of Doom,
Supernaut/Sabbath Bloody Sabbath/Megalomania,
Rat Salad,
Iron Man,
Dirty Women,
Children of the Grave

Paranoid

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When I read that Margo Price was coming to Dublin I bought a ticket instantly. I had only heard one or two songs at that point and did not own a copy of her excellent album 'Midwest Farmer's Daughter' yet. There was a buzz about her though and I felt I had to go and see her.

For those who have not heard the back story: Margo is indeed a Midwest farmer's daughter who dropped out of school and moved to Nashville, where she worked odd jobs, started doing music and met her husband. She had her share of hardships. The death of a baby drove her to drink and depression and she even spent time in prison. She pawned her wedding ring and sold her car to be able to record her album in Memphis' Sun Studios.

After many rejections none other than Jack White decided he liked the album and it was released on Third Man Records. It scored high in many end-of-year lists and if there was any justice Margo should have been nominated for a Grammy alongside Sturgill Simpson.

So I found myself in the Button Factory in Temple Bar on a Sunday night. The stage was set up for the main act - 'Margo Price' written on the bass drum, a pedal steel to the right. It was only when an unassuming guy with a guitar walked on stage that I realised there was going to be a support act. He started playing and I found myself thinking that he was uncommonly good. After a few songs he mentioned that he was Margo's husband. Jeremy Ivey then played what he said he considered his best song, 'Loner', and I could not agree more. It sounded like something Townes Van Zandt could have written. Margo joined him for two songs and they duetted wonderfully.

The headline show was fantastic. Margo was accompanied by a superb band compromising drums, bass, electric guitar and pedal steel. Margo herself played acoustic guitar and tambourine and Jeremy dropped in and out on guitar and harmonica. They played a total of 18 songs including most of the album, as well as some newer songs, including the great 'It ain't drunk driving if you're riding a horse', written by friend of theirs who holds down a day job in a grocery store, as per Margo.

Highlight of the show was her masterpiece 'Hands Of Time'. What a song that is.. It got a prolonged ovation from the crowd. And even if Margo had not lived the life and written such great songs, she could have made it as a singer alone, which was particularly evident on her cover of Dolly Parton's 'Jolene'. She also covered Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and the band did a lovely version of Bob Dylan's 'Nashville Skyline Rag'.

The encore included 'Me and Bobby McGee', which I particularly enjoyed as I had listened to my one and only Kris Kristofferson CD only a few days earlier, following the rumour that he will fill this year's Glastonbury legend slot (yes please!). A friend of mine who saw Margo last year had said he enjoyed her show but that rapport with the audience was a little lacking. I can only presume that her confidence has grown as this successful tour continues. Perhaps not as natural a stage presence as her husband, Margo nonetheless addressed the audience frequently and also came down into the crowd to sing and dance from there towards the end.

Gig of the year so far! If I come across a better one I shall report back, but this will take some beating.

Helen

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